A few years ago, I unearthed a travel journal from a month-long trip to Europe that I took in 2006. As I reviewed its pages, I was struck by just how many details of the trip I had completely forgotten. And if the memories of a once-in-a lifetime trip that was so impactful to me could fade away – how much of my day-to-day life is lost? Sensations, emotions, achievements, losses, experiences from the mundane to the exceptional, all transforming from that specific moment in time to become that day, that week, that year, that life…

As I get older and gain a better understanding of how fragile, how brief, and how precious life really is, it's become even more important to me to me experience it to its fullest and to try to retain all of those little moments that might otherwise get lost. It's with this idea that I started the process of recording these moments – a travel journal, of sorts.

A travel journal for life.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

GO ON BRUSH YOUR SHOULDERS OFF: A CONFIDENT WOMAN'S TALE OF A TEMPORARY LAPSE IN SWAGGER



Note: I wrote this piece some time ago, but felt too shy to post it publicly.  Today I found it while cleaning out old files and I had a surge of bravery.  I think it's important to talk about these things so here it is...  shared with the world (or the five people who read here, whatevs.) 

I’ve never had a self-confidence issue, ever.  Not even in my formative, angst-y teenage years.  I’ve always been proud and considered my confidence to be one of my best attributes.  That confidence is partially an inherent piece of my personality; I’ve always found it a waste of time and energy to be concerned about what other people think of me - especially if those thoughts happened to be negative - ESPECIALLY if those thoughts were about something I can’t (or don’t want to) change.  But that confidence also stems from the fact that I grew up surrounded by family, friends, and a community that thought I was the bees-knees. According to them, I was kind and giving, brilliant and innovative, lovely and statuesque; I had the voice of an angel, great artistic talent, and a striking presence upon entering any room. And I believed it all.  To this day, I sincerely believe that I possess an ethereal grace and creative genius, even as I spill my coffee, for the second time, onto the pile of envelopes that I’m stuffing for my mundane job.

This isn’t to say that I have a great big ol’ ego; I don’t think myself better than anyone else, I just try not to focus on the negative.  It also isn’t to say that I don’t ever experience self-doubt or hate on my thighs; I do – often.  But I try very hard not to ever let that stuff outweigh the ethereal grace/creative genius stuff.

I’m writing this, because I’ve recently been thinking a lot about self-confidence; and the near impossibility, for women in particular, to consistently maintain a positive self-image. How even the most confident of women occasionally listen to the negative voices and allow that self-criticism to creep in. And this week, I’ve been experiencing that creep.

Over the weekend, my husband and I were leaving a restaurant together and a man had stopped to hold the door for us. Just as we were passing through the door, I realized I left something on the table and had to run back to retrieve it.  When I turned back to the exit, I noticed the door-holder remained, chatting with my waiting husband. As I neared, I could hear bits of their conversation – he was asking if I was his girl and asking how tall I was and responding with an incredulous, “WOW!” and then muttered something about me being big.
 
This all rolled off my back with the resilience that you acquire when by age 12 you were easily a foot-or- more taller than your peers. Over the years, I’ve become immune to stares and questions about my height, assumptions about the sports I must be involved in, and debates over whether or not I should be permitted to wear heels.  It comes with the territory; it doesn’t offend me.

But then, as I smiled and passed by him through the door, he looked me up and down and called after my husband, “well, you’d better make sure she don’t beat your ass!” 


Dying Achilles, a sculpture on the Greek island of Corfu.  Very dramatic, no??
And that was it; I immediately wanted to curl into a ball and hide from the world.  With those stupid, thoughtless words, he had targeted my Achilles Heel. Because he didn’t perceive me as gentle or lovely, he saw me as burley and crass – likely to beat up my admittedly shorter than me, but quite muscular and strong husband’s ass.  In the car, I stared out the passenger window, willing the tears not to fall, wishing that those words of a stranger didn’t hurt me.  But I had heard variations of those words before and they inevitably had this same effect.  The first time something like this ever happened to me, I was 17 years old and still very much fancying myself a pretty princess who could woo humanity and charm wildlife.  I was in a public restroom, waiting for the occupied stall to open, when a little old lady emerged.  She looked at me and gasped, obviously startled.  “Oh, my,” she said, with her hand on her heart as if she had a case of the vapors, “I would HATE to meet up with YOU in a dark alley.”  I just stood there staring dumbly at her; I think I even giggled awkwardly at her statement so that SHE didn’t feel uncomfortable. As I went about my business in the restroom, I tried very hard to process what she said… I always knew I was different, that I didn’t look quite like everyone else. But was I intimidating, worse, was I actually scary?  That seemed impossible…  Yet, there it was.  The first time I had any concept of being perceived that way and it rocked me to the core. 18 years later, those words have still never left me entirely and that man, that door-holding asshole, might as well have said the exact same thing.

That evening, as women are often wont to do, I over-analyzed and internalized this man’s words.  Instead of being a result of his ignorance and rudeness, or his own self-esteem issues, the words became my issue; my problem.  “I’m carrying more weight than I’m comfortable with, so he was well within his rights to make a comment about my appearance; he’s probably only saying what everyone else is thinking anyway,” my mind taunted. “If I was skinny, my height would be admired as model-esque as opposed to fear-inducing.”  With this over-analysis came a steely resolve. You know, the kind that leads you to unhealthy behavior, like vowing not to leave the gym until you’ve burned 1000 calories each day.

The next day, determined to make good on my resolution, I hit the gym with much more vigor than usual. My anger and hurt had powered me through about 700 calories burned when my thoughts started to shift.  “Damn, I’m strong… I wonder how many people pray every night that they had the strength and stamina to power through a workout like this?” I looked down at my strong legs working and watched the timer click down and the calorie count click up and slowly my disgust with myself began to fade away and something else surfaced in its place… my temporarily-lost pride.   

The anger, though; the anger stayed.  I was angry that the words of one stranger were so easily able to knock me off course and I was angry that he felt entitled to say them in the first place.  Then I got angry at society, because really, he was only doing what society has empowered him to do; to look at a woman, judge her by her appearance and vocalize that judgment.

So, I’m really happy that my confidence only took leave of me for less than a full day, and the anger; I’m sure that will eventually dwindle, too.  But until it does, to the asshole door-holding man, I say this:

“I AM strong and this 6 ft tall body that intimidates you is a gift from my Nordic ancestors. My big-long legs carry me far and fast; if we were ever to work out together, I guarantee I could outlast you by hours. And your concern, sir, should not be for my darling husband who supports me always and sees only the very best in me, but for arrogant, entitled pricks like yourself who feel within their rights to make unnecessary and unwanted commentary on random women’s appearance.”

To myself and any other confident women experiencing a temporary lapse in their swagger, I invoke the words of the incomparable lyricist of our time, Jay Z, and say:

“Ladies is pimps too, go on brush your shoulders off.”

Monday, July 22, 2013

HAPPY HEARTS AND LASER-BEAM EYES

There are some people in life that you just feel an extra-special connection to.  Just that extra click that makes it so it doesn't ever really matter how much time or distance separates you; being with them is easy and fun and makes the heart feel full and happy.

I got a visit from one of those very special people in my life this weekend, my bright and beautiful cousin Dori and her lovely family.

Family!  (With happy hearts and laser-beam eyes.)
I think so much of this lady and her brood and I thoroughly enjoyed every moment of their (way-too-brief) visit.  I think they are some of the kindest, bravest, most creative people I've ever known, and I'm just certain that being around them makes me a better person too!

Here's to not ever again letting years go by without seeing one another!


Thursday, July 18, 2013

WE ARE NOT TRAYVON MARTIN...

I try very hard to keep my social media involvement light and happy, relying on it for fun and escape.  But occasionally, some things just weigh too heavily on me to ignore and they inevitably make their presence known in my online life.  Usually, it's in the form of blocking topics or people from my Facebook newsfeed, or breaking my self-imposed rule of not entering into fruitless online debates on controversial topics with people who don't have strong grips on reality. Sometimes - it makes it's way here.

Following the Trayvon Martin verdict, I've been carrying around a lump of sadness that's only exacerbated by cruel and insensitive comments online.  It makes it very difficult to maintain faith in humanity.  But then, I discovered this website: http://wearenottrayvonmartin.com/ and it was like salve on a wound. People of all sorts and types were reaching out, offering their condolences, sharing their stories of why they could so-closely identify with Trayvon or why they could not identify with him at all, but acutely felt the pain of his story, regardless.  So many people are clamoring to be part of this community, to grieve together, that the moderators of the site can barely keep up with submissions.  And I was compelled to submit my own - I don't know if it will ever make it to that community of stories, but here it is.
~

I am a woman whose childhood was spent in a small, rural, predominantly white, West Virginia town.  There was not very much ethnic diversity in our town – but in the home where I grew up, everyone was welcome and I was often surrounded by people of all sort and type.  I was very much insulated from the cruel realities of bigotry and hatred in the world.  I didn’t even know racism existed until the ripe-old-age of twelve.


I remember it very vividly, my introduction to this ugliness. While my mom was at choir practice, I was hanging out in the Dairy Queen across the street from our church with one of my childhood besties.  I remember feeling very grown-up and pretty; because my friend, a year older than me and already wearing makeup, had let me try her eyeliner and lip gloss.  So when a neighborhood boy came in and joined us at our booth, I felt especially giddy.  We ate ice cream and giggled wildly with all the ease that young, innocents have. But things changed so quickly.  As I headed to the restroom to clean up the ice cream that had made its way onto my shirt during a particularly animated moment of laughter, I was stopped by a stern looking couple and informed that I should not be there with THEM.  They pointedly directed their icy gazes back at my still-laughing friends.  My stomach dropped and I walked on without responding.  I didn’t understand what this couple was saying, but I did know that their words had fully sucked all the fun and laughter out of me.  I made an excuse to my friends and left to wait out the remainder of choir practice by myself on a pew in the church.


On the ride home, I told my mom what happened and I asked her what it meant.  She explained to me, with sadness in her eyes, that some people are afraid of people who are different from them, even if those differences are only skin-deep.  You see, I am very pale-skinned, and my friends, as you may have guessed, were brown-skinned.


I can remember the confusion I felt; how could anyone have negative associations with my friends’ beautiful brown skin? How is it possible that someone would think me a better person than them, simply because of my paleness? 


I can remember the anger I felt at the sheer stupidity of it all; my anger specifically at that couple for making assumptions about my friends and my anger generally that this thing, this racism, was a reality of life. 


And I can remember the deep sadness I felt; for my friends whose entire character was being judged simply based on their skin color, but also for the people who held these fears. They must miss out on so much by limiting their worlds to only people who are just like them; what a narrow, depressing, boring world that must be. 


I vowed then, at age twelve, that I would never live that way.  I would try to live my life as open to different people and different experiences as I possibly could. 


And I have. 


But it’s the privilege of my race and gender that affords me that opportunity to be open.  I can visit new cities and neighborhoods without warranting anyone’s attention. I can introduce myself to someone out of the clear blue without invoking fear. And if necessary, I can defend myself without question.


It’s the privilege of my race and gender that protected me from knowing about racism until age 12.


I am not Trayvon Martin.